It's Nobody's Fault But Valentine's

No matter what the media would have you believe, Bobby Valentine’s current problems are not about Terry Francona. Nor even Curt Schilling. They’re about Bobby Valentine.

Was Schilling a hypocrite when he popped off about Valentine having never been in the locker room, exactly the kind of move he hated as a player? Yes. Is it likely that he’s unfairly biased against Valentine because of his relationship with Francona? Again, yes. But here’s the problem: none of that means that Schilling is wrong. And in the wake of that controversy, Valentine is doing nothing but proving Schilling correct.

The popular narrative about last season was, and to some degree is, that the Red Sox’ failure was attributable to a lack of accountability that festered under Tito’s free hand. Peter Abraham apparently subscribes to this theory, saying yesterday:

Everybody knows what happened in 2011. The Red Sox weren’t ready for the season to start and then they quit on each other at the end.

Is there some truth to that assertion? With certainty. But was that the reason 2011 ended in disaster? Or is the more likely explanation that normal clubhouse behaviors became magnified in the wake of a historic collapse that was the product of a true perfect storm?

What if, for example, Doubront hadn’t showed up out of shape, then gotten hurt? What if Hill had lasted more than 9 (scoreless) games? What if Jenks pitched in more than 19 games, and pitched like Jenks? What if Drew hadn’t faded so suddenly? What if Kalish and Linares hadn’t been hurt and therefore unable to replace him? What if Buchholz hadn’t had a stress fracture in his back, missing half a season? What if Youk had been playing at third instead of Aviles? What if Bard and Lester hadn’t all lost the strike zone at the same time? What if Gonzalez hadn’t shown the ill effects of the home run derby, a surgically repaired shoulder, or both? What if Carl Crawford had finally, eventually been even 80% of Carl Crawford? Hell, what if Darnell McDonald hadn’t been picked off in the top of the ninth inning that first series in Cleveland after being swept by Texas?

The answer is that the Red Sox probably would have made the playoffs, Tito probably would still be the manager and Theo might even still be the GM. In spite of – or is that because of? – Francona’s leniency.

The popular narrative, in other words, is lazy, not attempting to explain why the Red Sox were the best team in baseball for fourth months, nor to understand the failure as a cumulative event. It’s a gross oversimplification that seeks to assign blame for an event that was the product of dozens of cascading errors. One that mistakes symptoms for cause. If any one of dozens of factors had played out differently, Valentine probably wouldn’t be the manager.

None of that happened, however, which is how Bobby V happened. In a classic management blunder, ownership over-rotated and hired the exact opposite of the manager they determined was the problem – his two World Series titles notwithstanding.

The really surprising thing wasn’t that management’s chosen anti-Francona experienced issues, nor even that they occured so soon. No, the real surprise was that after almost a decade out of major league baseball – an exile due in part to his inability to control his mouth – Bobby Valentine, a sixty-two year old man, was after all these years unable to control his mouth.

What the Globe’s Peter Abraham got right was that Valentine’s bizarre indictment of (and later apology to) Youk was a mistake. What he got wrong was the implication – perhaps born out of Valentine’s own denials – that this was somehow manufactured by Francona’s admirers, or those operating off of Bobby V stereotypes. Bobby brought this on himself, and needed no help from anyone to do it.

There just isn’t a rational defense for his comments. Like so many of the things that come out of Valentine’s mouth – remember when he had to apologize to Jeter in spring training?, there was no upside to them. Whether it was intended as motivation or was the product of someone who can’t help himself, the impact was a media firestorm and an angry, immediate rebuke from the clubhouse in the person of Pedroia. All this, nine days into his tenure. Which begs the question: if Bobby’s as smart as everyone thinks he is, why can’t he just shut his trap?

One other thing that Abraham got right: if Valentine doesn’t learn to keep his mouth shut, it’s going to be a long season. Those who wished for a manager that would be harder on the players are going to discover that it’s best to be careful what you wish for.

WTF?

.flickr-photo { border: solid 2px #000000; }
.flickr-yourcomment { }
.flickr-frame { text-align: left; padding: 3px; }
.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; }



opening day, originally uploaded by sogrady.

You’re thinking it, I’m thinking it, and you can be damn sure Tito’s thinking it. If I’d known that the only home game we would have won to date would be the one I attended – that’d be Opening Day, for those who haven’t been keeping up with current events – I probably would have made an effort to get to more games.

But seriously, who would – could – have called this? 4-9, 6 games back of the division leading Rays. I sure didn’t. To try to ground the discussion, let’s look at where we are, and where we might expect grounds for improvement.

What’s Gone Wrong?

In a word, everything. And no, that’s not hyperbole. There is quite literally nothing we’re doing right at the moment.

The offense? Being 17th in the league in average is bad enough, being 20th in OBP is worse. Far worse. When the bright spot in your offense is a 9th place finish in slugging percentage, you’ve got problems. Frankly I was surprised we were only 15th in the league in strikeout percentage; Drew and Ortiz are between them striking out in 42.5% of their at bats. As an aside, I do find it interesting that everyone’s written off Ortiz while it’s just a slump for Drew, just as I find it curious that Lester’s just not good early while Buchholz is again being popularly consigned to the bullpen or someone else’s roster. The psychology of player evaluation is a really fascinating phenomenon. But we’ve got bigger problems to look at at the moment.

So the offense is not good. How about the vaunted defense? If anything, it’s worse. We’re 27th in Defensive Runs Saved, 18th in Fielding Percentage and we’re in such desperate shape at throwing out runners that there’s already talk of bringing up Mark Wagner, whose CHONE projected line is .232/.298/.341.

But at least the pitching is good, right? I wish. Our ERA could be worse, I guess, at 18th in the league, and actually our 25th ranking in FIP suggests that we’re actually lucky it isn’t worse. Not surprisingly, given those numbers, we’re bad at striking people out (27th in K/9) but much better at walking them: 10th best team in the majors at issuing the free pass. In case it’s not clear, being good at walking people is not a desirable skill.

Nor was there, as I had hoped before looking, any indications that the above numbers, both offensively and pitching-wise, are flukes. Our hitters’ BABIP is .287, and our pitchers’ is .279. Meaning that we have neither been exceptionally lucky or unlucky.

We are what we are, in other words. Except that we’re not.

What’s Likely to Go Right?

All of the above. The most plate appearances anyone on the club has is Pedroia at 57. That’s not as small a sample as the two games that had the writers penning Papi’s obit, but it’s statistically not significant.

It’s early. I know that’s hard to believe when we’re a few weeks into the season, already back by six games and with our offseason plan looking as intelligent as real estate investing circa 2010.

But before you take a leap from the Zakim, consider the following:

  1. Our hitters and pitchers alike will regress to the mean. For better and for worse. Pedroia’s sadly not going to put up a 1.159 OPS for the year, but neither is Drew going to put up an OBP of .233, V-Mart a SLG of .367, or Youk an average of .238. These things will fix themselves over time.
  2. No one likes to make excuses because of injuries, but remember that that two thirds of our starting outfielders this weekend were bench players. So when you see Hermida butchering balls in left, remember that he is not the starting left fielder, Ells is. And thankfully, he’ll be back because Beltre didn’t kill him. As will Cameron, after his current senior ailment – kidney stones – remedy themselves. Will that fix Scutaro’s jitters or V-Mart’s tendency to sail throws “just a bit outside?” Nope. But again: they’ll regress to the mean. Although in V-Mart’s case that’s not good news.
  3. A couple of folks have bitched that this is all the front office’s doing; if only we signed Jason Bay, we’d be right there with the Rays and Yankees. Setting aside the question of how a single player could fix all that has gone wrong thus far, there is the problem with the numbers. Namely, Bay’s. Thus far in a Mets uniform, he’s putting up a .217/.321/.283 line, while leading both leagues in strikeouts with 18 (narrowly edging our own Drew). Our left-fielders, meanwhile, have put up an unimpressive and still superior .240/.255/.400. So not only is Jason Bay not walking through that door, it probably wouldn’t help much if he did. Like everyone else, he’ll regress to the mean – which in his case means he’ll get a lot better – but in the early going, it doesn’t appear as if he’d be a difference maker.

What’s Not Likely to Improve?

I am worried with a capital W about the pen. The starters, I think, will ultimately be fine. Beckett’s been better, Lester’s history says he’ll be better, Lackey just had a bad start today, and between Wake, Buch and Matsuzaka – throwing well in Pawtucket, from reports – I feel pretty good. One through five (or six), we’ll have a chance to win most days, however much it doesn’t feel that way right now.

Likewise, our offense will hit. It’s looked brutal in the early going, but it is always does when 70% or 80% of your lineup isn’t hitting. Moreover, I think the front office will be aggressive if it looks like that’s a problem, and adding offense in season is always easier than adding pitching.

But we may be forced to give something away to get some help in relief, because there’s no real help available on the farm. Tazawa’s out with Tommy John. Richardson isn’t exactly lighting it up with a 1.80 WHIP at Pawtucket, and Kelly – for all of his poise – was born in 1989 (though I find his innings limits intriguing). I’ve been worried about our pen since the offseason, not least because our PECOTA projections were terrifying. And yes, I’m aware that PECOTA’s had its issues this offseason.

ESPN’s Jeremy Lundblad has the best breakdown of the issues out of our pen that I’ve seen. You really should read it, but the short version for the link averse? Delcarmen’s lost about three miles an hour off his fastball since 2008, and his usage reflects that. Ramirez Uno’s K rate is in sharp decline, and his walk rate is up. Also not good.

Oki’s still great versus lefties, but he’s become mortal versus righties. Which probably explains why he’s given up the 8th inning to Bard. And speaking of, while Lundblad’s not particularly worried about the young fireballer, I am. His K rate is down sharply in the early going, never a good sign, although that could just be a blip. His HR rate is higher as well. Like Keith Law, I’ve struggled to understand how people who watch him pitch right now think he’s ready to take Papelbon’s place. He just doesn’t command well enough yet.

Which brings us to Pap. You might recall that last season I, along with a great many other people, worried about the fact that Pap had basically reverted to a one pitch pitcher. Well, the good news is that he is indeed throwing the split more: 17.9% thus far, well up from last season’s 9.3%. The bad news is that his pitch selection may be impacting his performance – negatively. As Lundblad put it,

Papelbon has issued four walks in four appearances so far this season. In 2008, he didn’t issue his fourth walk until June 22, his 33rd appearance. Factor in just one strikeout, and this is the first time in Papelbon’s career that he has more walks than strikeouts.

Add it up, and I think the pen will be this team’s weakness.

Big Picture?

We’re going to play better, and things will turn around. I’m not going to guarantee 95 wins like a lot of people – the BP guys’ latest simulations are currently predicting an 80 win season and 24% chance of the playoffs, but we’re clearly better than that. Just as we’re better than this.

Will it be enough to make up six games in the toughest division in baseball? Who knows. But we can’t worry about that right now. Our only concern should be getting these guys playing better.

Meaning don’t boo them, it’s not going to help anything.

The Red Sox Offense, Circa 2010

Obviously, the focus has shifted to run prevention. Just as obviously, Jason Bay is a better hitter than Mike Cameron, whatever the latter’s run prevention advantages.

But while I think it unlikely that Theo’s done tweaking the roster, I frankly don’t think the one we have right now is all that bad. It’s not the Yankee’s lineup, to be sure, but neither is it Seattle 2009 lineup.

Here’s Keith Law on our roster construction for next year:

Between the Lackey deal and the reported discussions with Mike Cameron, Boston’s front office appears to have changed its approach to roster construction away from the OBP/slug-heavy clubs around which they won two World Series toward run prevention through superior pitching and defense. We’ve already seen Boston sign Marco Scutaro, an above-average defensive shortstop who was even better than that before a heel injury ruined his 2009 season, in addition to paying heavily for Cuban teenage shortstop Jose Iglesias, a pair of moves they hope will secure the shortstop position for the next seven or eight years.

And here’s Buster Olney on the same subject, today:

The Red Sox have tried to sign Adrian Beltre — widely regarded by talent evaluators as the best third baseman in the majors — but they may not be successful in reaching the middle ground between what they want to pay Beltre and what agent Scott Boras is asking for (an eight-figure annual salary). If they can’t get a Beltre deal done, they will go with Casey Kotchman at first base and Kevin Youkilis at third. Either way, the Red Sox will be in position to fight it out with the Mariners about who has the best pitching-and-defense team in the majors. A rotation of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Clay Buchholz could be backed by an infield of Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Marco Scutaro and Beltre (or Kotchman), and an outfield of Cameron, Jacoby Ellsbury and J.D. Drew.

Conversely, the Boston lineup could have the least amount of impact we’ve seen in Theo Epstein’s time as general manager. The Red Sox have posted the following team OPS marks over the past seven seasons, starting in 2003: .851, .832, .811, .786, .806, .805, .806.

These are the OPS numbers of 2009 for what the Red Sox lineup might look like:

SS Scutaro — .788
2B Pedroia — .819
1B Youkilis — .961
C Martinez — .861
RF Drew — .912
LF Cameron — .794
DH Ortiz — .794
3B Beltre — .683 (or Kotchman, .721)
CF Ellsbury — .770

It’s possible that the lineup would be pretty good — if Drew stays healthy, if Cameron continues to be productive at age 37, if Ortiz hits more consistently than he did in the first half of 2009. Keep in mind that the Red Sox (and other big-market teams) always will have flexibility to go out and make in-season deals. Are the Red Sox as good as the Yankees, in the aftermath of the Lackey and Cameron agreements?

Maybe not.

It seems fairly clear, though, with more moves to come, that Boston is one of the four best teams in the AL, with a couple of months to go in the offseason.

Olney, probably for the sake of convenience, ignores the possibility of platoons. But given that folks that will be penciled into the lineup next year have rather pronounced splits, I thought I’d take a quick look at the roster possibilities. Obviously I am not assuming a Beltre acquisition, but have anticipated the signing of Cameron and the acqusition of Max Ramirez for Lowell. A couple of other notes: one, the lineups are obviously unrealistic, because Tito is highly unlikely to platoon his regulars this heavily. Two, we have sample size problems, most obviously with Lowrie and Ramirez. Third, these numbers are career, not last year, so they do not reflect recent declines – or improvements, for that matter – in player performance. Last, the batting order has been given essentially zero thought.

All that being said, I think the roster, even without (likely) further additions, is both flexible and adequate. Unless Ortiz returns to his former level, it’s not going to be a scary offense, it lacks pop and we’re not stellar against lefties, but we should score runs. Again: this is even if we do nothing else. So let’s not all panic about the presumed loss of Bay just yet, shall we?

More on the signings and the front office’s plan later.

In Case You Haven't Been Keeping Up With Current Events

Well, I don’t even know where to start. You’re screwed. You missed 1.) a sweep of Tampa, 2.) a brawl with Tampa, 3.) a brawl between Manny and Youk (not joking), 4.) an injury to Ellsbury, 5.) progress from Schill, 6.) held breath on Papi, 7.) two more good starts from Masterson and so on.

Oh, and the draft was this week.

So good luck catching up on all of that. But I’ll tell you what, we’ll try for you anyway.

The Brawl

I’m with the SOSH folks on this one: I’m not sure I can defend Coco here. Maybe on the hard slide – that’s debatable, but not in charging the mound. Shields – to his credit – hit him in exactly the right way, not dialing it up and not shooting for the head. True, he was an idiot for doing it in the second inning, but he handled himself well, while Coco – in my view – did not.

Either way, I’ll take the sweep.

The Bullpen

One of the brighter spots in the past week to ten days has been – shockingly – Boston’s bullpen. Tito seems to be easing Hansen into a MDC-in-’07-like 7th inning role. The onetime bust out of St John’s is unscored upon in his last five apperances, and over 5.2 IP has K’d 5, walked 2 and given up just one hit. Speaking of MDC, you know who also has exactly the same numbers over his last five appearances? That’s right. MDC. Throw in the potential of Masterson down the stretch, and we may not have to do too much to reconstruct our once leaky pen.

One minor down note: Daniel Bard, he of the 100 MPH fastball, got lit up today against Akron. In 1.2 IP, he coughed up 4 hits – 2 of them homers – and 4 runs, striking out only one. On the plus side, he didn’t walk anybody.

The Draft

Lots of takes on the club’s haul in the draft, and obviously the signing process for these kids will be lengthy, but I’m encouraged not just by the reports but by the fact that it would appear that we’ll be ignoring the commissioner office’s slot recommendations once again. As we should.

Here’s Baseball America’s page (sub req’d, sorry), but, better, here‘s Keith Law’s take on our draft class:

Boston bet it all on red, taking one high-ceiling player after another. Apparently, they’re willing to worry about the signability of these players later on. Casey Kelly is a first-rounder as a pitcher or position player, but his bonus demands and commitment to play quarterback at Tennessee scared off potential suitors. Ryan Westmoreland’s bonus demands ($1.6 to $2.1 million) and commitment to Vanderbilt had him viewed as completely unsignable all spring, even though he was a top-40 talent and had performed well over the summer with a wood bat. Bryan Price was totally misused at Rice, and was one of the best reliever-to-starter conversion opportunities in the draft. Derrik Gibson and Pete Hissey are both athletic, projectable tools players with the chance to play in the middle of the field (Gibson as a shortstop/second baseman, Hissey as a center fielder); both also have commitments to strong college programs (North Carolina and Virginia, respectively). Even if the Red Sox don’t sign all four of those high school talents, signing Kelly and one of the others would be an impressive haul of talent — and we know the Sox have the resources to sign more than just two.

So the class is good. But good as in better than the Yankees? Law says yes:

Steve (Clemson, SC): Hey Keith, Sorry but I have to ask: Better 2008 draft, if they sign most of their picks, Red Sox or Yankees?

SportsNation Keith Law: Red Sox.

We can only hope.

The Fight

At the SeaDog brewpub down in Brunswick, they have HD. Which is good. They don’t have audio, which is bad. So I had no idea what the hell was happening when M-Ram and Yoooook had to be separated in our own dugout. Neither, I learned later, did anyone else, but still.

If the reports are accurate, and that this centered around the (potentially widely held) perception that Youk is putting his own concerns in front of the teams by tearing apart the dugout post an at bat in games where we’re up comfortably, then I’m glad this came out now. Better to let it out now, ugly as it appeared, then let it fester.

Besides, the guys are Surviving Grady are spot on, it was worth it just to hear Tito’s one line summary:

I think they were just exchanging some views on things.

The O’Brien Factor

I’ll acknowledge up front that this could just be me. I’ll also acknowledge that I don’t particularly care for Dave O’Brien (I’d prefer to have a Sox only play by play announcer), even while I’ll concede that he’s a well regarded national broadcaster. But there is one thing he’s doing that is making me insane: he’s ignoring, completely, generally accepted rules against jinxing games, performances or players.

Jon Lester’s no hitter? He was discussing it freely in the fifth. We’re poised to take the third of three games against Tampa? He’s calling it a sweep before the game is ended. Masterson’s the pitcher of record in a game we’re winning by a run? O’Brien’s word choice is “will win.” Not the conditional “would,” but “will.”

I’m not saying that this is anything but trivial. I’m also not saying I’m sane. But listen to a game he broadcasts and see if you notice: he has no sense whatsoever with his tenses or conditionals. None.

And it’s driving me crazy.

In Case You Haven't Been Keeping Up With Current Events

.flickr-photo { border: solid 2px #000000; }
.flickr-yourcomment { }
.flickr-frame { text-align: left; padding: 3px; }
.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; }



a $9 seat at hadlock, originally uploaded by sogrady.

I haven’t. Well, actually, that’s not entirely true. I’ve been keeping up, I just haven’t been writing here to keep all of you up to date with said current events. But anyway, we’re back. And c’mon, three posts in two days? That has to count for something.

While I can’t promise that we won’t have similar outages in future, I’d be surprised if we see another one of similar duration any time in the near future. Unless I’ll be moving half way across the country the week before JavaOne again and no one’s yet informed me.

Anyhow, if all of the above has the ring of a half assed apology for the downtime, well, that’s just your imagination. I’m ready to get to the news on the heels of a much needed Sox sweep – bye, Brew Crew (especially you, Ryan Braun) – which followed a brutal four game depantsing at the hands of the Twins and O’s.

So with no further delay, this week’s ICYHBKUWCE:

April Homers Down

This will doubtless come too late to stave off claims in some quarters – I’m looking at you, self-righteous sportswriters, pundits and analysts – that power is down because of the testing program, but this piece I found via Neyer is fascinating. I’ve always taken the “bats warm up with the weather” arguments with several liberal helpings of salt, but the correlation between weather and extra base power is difficult to refute. Food for thought, or ammunition the next time some ignorant talking head pops off.

Buchholz’ Vacation

I’m with Chad: count me among those that is of the opinion that Bucky’s trip to the DL is little more than this year’s equivalent of Beckett’s downtime for the “avulsion.” Disabling him serves two purposes besides healing his wounded paw: first, it’s a mental health break for the starter followin two outings in which he didn’t make it into the fifth (both losses). Second, and more importantly, it’s an enforced period of rest during which he will not be accumulating innings. Rest worked for Beckett last year, and could and probably should work for Bucky this year.

What will be interesting will be what role he comes back to: I’m increasingly convinced that he may be – Earl Weaver style (Keith Law would undoubtedly approve) – shunted back to the bullpen until Colon proves ineffective.

One interesting bit of trivia: who’s got the second highest K/9 on the club? You guessed it: everyone’s favorite slim righthander. At 9.14, he’s behind only Pap, and ahead of Aardsma, Beckett, Delcarmen, Lester, Matsuzaka, Okakima, Hansen, Wake, and, well, you get the picture. That’s the good news. The bad? Righties are killing him to the tune of a .908 OPS.

Masterson on Tap

As the Boston Globe was kind enough to inform us, Portland’s own Justin Masterson will be getting his second big league start this Tuesday. Which is curious, because as previously noted in this space, Masterson hasn’t exactly been lighting it up. It’s not every day that you give up 7 earned in a start and earn a promotion to the big club. But desperate times and all, he’s the guy. And I suppose it’s worth noting that he did pitch very effectively in his previous outing against a talented Angels club (which featured another impossible Okajima outing: bases loaded, no one out).

If you’re looking for an explanation for why we’re comfortable starting the kid in this spot, the Providence Journal Bulletin actually saw fit to relay some of Tito’s comments on the matter:

Manager Terry Francona, acknowledging that Masterson has been cuffed around in his last few starts for Double A Portland, said the pitcher’s mistake has been leaving balls up in the zone late in games.

I’m not entirely convinced this is a good move, as I’m not sure the majors are where a pitcher learns to get the ball down, but then I don’t have to be convinced, because no one cares what I think.

More on Run Differentials

In the earlier piece on Tampa, I mentioned Run Differentials, and I’m sure that you’re dying for more information on the subject. So here’s Neyer with more:

Not only are the Rays in first place, they’re in first place on merit, as their +25 run differential is slightly better than that of the Red Sox (+23). Everybody else in the division — Orioles (-7), Blue Jays (-1) and Yankees (-6) — is bunched up around .500, exactly where they should be.

I wonder what our run differential might be if our bullpen wasn’t 27th in the league…

Youk’s Start

That Youk is tearing the cover off of the ball at the moment, you probably knew. That he leads all Sox regulars in OBP, SLG, doubles, total bases and lags Papi in home runs by 1, you might have known. What you probably didn’t was why. Fortunately, Inside Edge has you covered.

First, Youk is flat out destroying lefties (.444/.538/.889 for an absurd 1.427 OPS). Against lefties, he’s effectively Barry Bonds circa 2004. Which makes a difference.

Also important, however, and significantly less obvious, is his ability to hit off speed pitches. According to Inside Edge, his average and slugging numbers against off-speed offerings the last three years look as follows:
2006 .235 .340
2007 .263 .382
2008 .333 .563The scouting service believes the above augurs well for his ability to sustain some level of the performance we’ve seen to date going forward. I hope they’re right.

Wait on Crisp?

As for the obligatory Crisp rumors, comes the following, via MLB Trade Rumors via Ken Rosenthal: it may make more sense to hang on to Crisp. Apparently the free agent center field class for ’09 – unlike this past offseason – is weak, meaning that retaining him for the duration might be the preferred approach. While I still would entertain trade offers if it might improve the bullpen, particularly with Moss on the mend, his speed and defense do look good on the roster. Particularly the bench.

Last, But Far From Least

Courtesy of the aforementioned Chad Finn, did you know that Tito was one of Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd?” Me neither.

The Mayor Comes to Town

So we’re getting Sean Casey. While I can’t really say that I have strong feelings on the subject one way or another, it’s a Red Sox transaction and thus must be documented. In excessive detail. Here we go.

Q: What’s the nature of the transaction?
A: One year deal at $700K according to the Great Gammons. Edes says $800K. Doesn’t look like a minor league invite sort of thing, but the contract is apparently non-guaranteed.

Q: Who is Sean Casey?
A: A 1B/DH type, pretty much strictly, who’s played with Cleveland (briefly), Cincinnatti, Detroit, Pittsburgh in his career. While much beloved by fans, players and media, I’m probably faster than he is. Like, a lot faster. And I’m the slowest man alive.

Q: What’s with the much beloved bit?
A: Casey is rumored to be the most popular player in MLB. As the good folks over at Surviving Grady relate, in a survey of 464 major leaguers asked who the friendliest player was, Casey’s name was returned on 46% of the ballots. The runners up? Jim Thome and Mike Sweeney, at a whopping 7% a piece. Put more simply: you don’t pick up a moniker like “The Mayor” by being a dick.

Q: So he’s one of those rare players the ravenous Boston media won’t pick on?
A: Sure seems that way. Witness these tidbits, “a very popular and enthusiastic player,” “considered an outstanding clubhouse influence,” “excellent contact hitter,” “chosen for three NL All-Star teams,” “made a big impact with Detroit.”

Q: Ok, the Boston media is sold. How about you?
A: Meh. As I said from the outset, I’ve really got no strong feelings one way or another. He’s got some very useful skills, but lacks the versatility you’d expect from a bench player, as Allen Chace over at Over the Monster notes.

Q: Let’s parse that a little bit: what are his useful skills?
A: Dude, it’s the Red Sox front office. What do you think? Baserunning?

The guy gets on base. Lifetime OBP is .366, and last year was at .353.

Q: I’ve heard – via Nick Cafardo – that he’s a good pinch hitter as well. Is that true?
A: Well, Cafardo has him at 5-11 last year in that role. Which is good. ESPN actually has him at 6-12, which is also good. But given that his three year total of 21 ABs as a PH is the very definition of small sample size, I’m not ready to draw any firm conclusions off of that fact.

Q: Gotcha. So the OBP is good. What are the downsides?
A: Primarily, as discussed by Allen, there’s the lack of versatility. I’ve never been considered the world’s biggest Hinske fan, but at least he gives you the option in the outfield. As would have a Brad Wilkerson, before he signed with the Mariners.

Casey’s limited, but balancing that is Youk’s abilities at third. So though Casey is limited to first, given Youk’s versatility, The Mayor effectively represents relief at both first and third.

The other primarily limitation of Casey’s game is power. Put bluntly, it’s never really been a part of his game. Lifetime SLG is .450, and his last three years are .364/.408/.393. But in a bench player, that’s not really such a priority.

Q: What do the players think?
A: Given his reputation, they’re likely to be as fired up as Curt Schilling is. As an aside to Curt, who observed “I think he’s gotten the best of me more than I on him,” that’s not quite true. He’s at 6 hits in 19 ABs with 2 BBs, for a .316/.381/.474 line. Thus he’s hit you well, but not more often than you get him.

Q: What do the splits tell us?
A: One minor surprise: he’s better against lefties than righties over the last 3 years (.326/.380/.448 vs .284/.346/.387). Other than that, very little of significance: he hasn’t hit well at Camden Yard in 13 ABs (.445 OPS), hasn’t been much better at Fenway (.483 OPS in 30 ABs), and is worst at Yankee Stadium (.417 OPS in 21 ABs). He also hasn’t responded well to the DH role in a mere 26 ABs, hitting .192/.250/.308 in that role.

Q: A cursory glance suggests that Casey is like an older Youk. Is that reasonably accurate?
A: Well, they’re both first baseman with lower power profiles than you expect for the position, but Youk can handle third and gets on base at a slightly higer clip (.383 to .366 lifetime). Interestingly, though, Casey’s hit for a bit more pop over his career (.450 to Youk’s .434). I hadn’t known that.

Q: So what’s the bottom line on this deal?
A: Seems like a classic low-risk/moderate reward scenario. At worst, he’s a low cost (read: easily jettisoned) asset with the club who may make the clubhouse a better place. At best, he’s a good OBP bat off the bench that can spell both Lowell at third (by proxy) and Youk at first, which is important since the fomer is aging (33) and the latter tends to wear down (1st and 2nd half splits the last 3 years: .309/.410/.478 vs .249/.355/.384). Thus, I give the deal a thumbs up, even if I’m not dancing in the streets as a result.